Sunday, September 25, 2011

Amateur Termite Treatment – What Not To Do

The infamous beam over the kitchen counter.

It’s very tempting to think that you can handle the termites on your own. A certain level of naiveté plus excessive DIY-itis (Do-It-Yourself-itis) is not a good combination. Since our jungalow is right over a gulch, there was no way to do the traditional termite treatment: tenting the entire house. The special poisonous gas would not be contained, since the house can’t be completely sealed. So we figured we’d try a little DIY amateur termite treatment ourselves. But, this was the beginning of the road to trouble.

Case in point: the termite infested beam above the kitchen counter. This was the notorious beam under which I would find a large ring of termite droppings, on the counter, clean them up, and about 1 hour later, find an equally large circle of more droppings, sometimes on the floor or on another place on the counter. After cleaning up the same continued waterfall of termite poop, I felt like Lady MacBeth, saying “Out damn spot, Out I say!”

So, we thought we would tackle it ourselves with a bottle of Termiticide bought at Kula Hardware for about $45/bottle. Not cheap, but at least not toxic and kitchen-safe. It’s made of cedar oil, so at least it also smells good.

Locally distributed Termiticide, safe for kitchens

My DH, Dear Husband, decided to knock off any loose pieces of wood. We had read that termite droppings can continue to fall even for a month after there is no termite activity, simply because they have accumulated for a while – so a good rain or a good wind can knock some of the accumulated termite debris down below. So, we thought a good idea would be to eliminate the excessive droppings and loose wood.

Uh-oh. That was mistake #1. 


How much termite poop can you find in one beam of wood?  It’s like a mathematical equation that ends in infinity. After much tapping and later on, hacking, there was not much left of the beam. Oops. It looked like it had been chewed by a giant wood chuck. Wood pieces and slivers along with piles of termite poop were strewn all over the kitchen floor.  Even though there was a drop cloth on the floor, it must be a Murphy’s Law: “No matter where you put the drop cloth, some termite poop will still sneak underneath.”

Then we sprayed the Termiticide several times overhead, all along the beam.

This was taken before we knew to wear long-sleeved shirts.

Mistake #2: This spray is also messy.

The spray is not toxic, but it can sting a bit, so long sleeves help a lot. It got all over us, since we were under the beam. Plus it got all over the counter, the sink, the dishes. Everything had to be washed and wiped down. So, next time, we covered everything up with big plastic drop cloths and wore long-sleeve shirts.  And it still managed to get all over us and everything else.

So, the beam was sort of sprayed, and hopefully we got most of the wood, and hopefully it penetrated enough of the wood… so we were very hopeful.

But we still had a big chewed up beam overhead.  We tried using wood putty. Ha ha ha.  Wood putty is so slippery and thin, that it just drips and drools down the side of the beam and leaves big white messy puddles on the floor.  I guess that would be mistake #3.

So, my bright or not-so-bright idea was to take a slab of modeling clay, from the local crafts store, and slather it on with a putty knife.  Well, this kind of worked. It took a lot of clay, and had to be really worked into all those deep cracks and ruts. Both of us were pretty tired from applying it, and then trying to smooth it out so it didn’t look so rough and irregular.

Fastest putty knife in the West.

The modeling clay experiment.

Mistake #4: We didn’t get all the termites.  The beam was still ejecting termite poop projectiles.  So, we ended up hacking a bit more at the beam, and spraying again.  After more modeling clay, we let it dry for a few days.

Then DH thought it still looked too irregular and uneven. So he sanded it. Oh lordy, take me now... White clay dust all over the kitchen.

Then it got primed and painted. Phew.

This little exercise only took it seemed like 3 or 4 days of Shakespearean torture with several days of pausing, waiting, cleaning, and drying in-between. Maybe I exaggerate, but it really felt that way. And that was only one beam. DH thought we should do all the beams that way. At that point, I put my foot down and said we really need to get professionals. At 20 beams overhead which take 3-4 days a beam plus drying time, that’s like a job that would take the rest of my life – at the speed I work, but only a day for real pros. Those beams do not even include all the other wood portions of the ceiling, walls and floor that are also termite infested.

In retrospect, I would not have even touched that beam, nor run a finger along the surface… Once it was prodded even the slightest, it just erupted into a seething Dante-style termite inferno. If there’s nothing else you remember, don’t touch that wood!  Let sleeping termite beams lie sleeping.

P.S. Blog contributions and guest bloggers are welcome. If you have an interesting story to tell about termites or some other jungalow-related experience, please comment below to contact me.


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